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Paul Ronzheimer is the deputy editor-in-chief of BILD and a senior journalist writing for Axel Springer, the parent company of POLITICO.
KIEV – Russian forces are shooting at Ukrainian rescuers attempting to reach those trapped in flood-hit areas of occupied Kherson after the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an exclusive interview.
“As soon as our helpers try to rescue them, they get hit,” Zelenskyy said, referring to efforts to reach residents of towns on the Russian-occupied Dnipro River bank, which was inundated by floodwaters after explosions partially destroyed the dam on Tuesday. Floodwaters threaten 80 settlements on both the Ukrainian-occupied and Russian-occupied banks of the river, according to Kyiv.
“People, animals died,” Zelenskyy said. “From the roofs of flooded houses, people see drowned people floating. You can see it from the other side. It is very difficult to get people out of the occupied part of the Kherson region. When our forces try to take them out, they are attacked by the occupiers from a distance. »
He added: « We won’t be able to see all the consequences for a few days, when the water will have dripped a bit. »
After initially denying that the dam had been blown up, Russia blamed Kiev for the disaster. The dam connects the Dnipro River, holding up to 18 cubic kilometers of water, and was a vital source of water for the Crimea peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Ukraine says the Kremlin is behind the dam’s destruction, as part of a desperate attempt to curb an expected Kiev counter-offensive.
“They understand very well that they will lose this battle,” Zelenskyy said Axel Springer, parent company of POLITICO. « They are dragging the liberation of our territories. »
Pointing to the fact that the dam has been under the control of Russian forces since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Zelenskyy said the Kremlin was to blame.
« This is happening on occupied territory, » Zelenskyy said, adding that he had plenty of time warned its Western allies of the likelihood that the Russians would attempt to destroy the dam.
“Everyone said: ‘The risk is high that the dam will be blown up if the adversary perceives that we will run into these territories to liberate them,’” the Ukrainian president said. The Russians “fear that we will start a counter-offensive in this direction and want to make it difficult to liberate our areas. They didn’t think twice about flooding their occupied territories as well. I see no other reason. »
Zelenskyy also took aim at international aid organizations, which he said were scattered when it came to relief efforts on the ground.
« I’m not here, » he said. While Ukraine has asked for help, “we have not received any response. I am shocked. »
Paolo Ronzheimer reported from Kiev.